The White House has disclosed that the Bush administration will be leaving behind a nasty house-warming gift for the next president: a record budget deficit of $482 billion in fiscal 2009.
Since the fiscal year begins before President Bush leaves office, if that forecast holds — and it may even be on the low side — Bush will have set the records for the first, second, third, fourth and fifth highest federal deficits ever. Not bad considering that when he took office the country had had four straight years of budget surpluses and had started to pay down the national debt, now also at record levels
Bush’s tax cuts took care of the accumulated surplus and untrammeled spending by the Republican Congress dug us into the hole. Even without the demands of 9/11 this was the freest spending bunch Washington had seen since the Great Society. When the 2007 deficit came in at "only" $161.5 billion, that was treated as good news but, alas, not for long. When fiscal 2008 ends Sept 30, the deficit for the current year likely will be around $389 billion.
The White House press secretary calls the deficit "temporary and manageable," and the administration clings to its wildly optimistic belief that the budget will be back in balance in 2012.
But it’s important to note that the deficit forecast does not include the full cost of fighting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which are being waged largely off the books. The Bush administration’s deficit forecasts have hardly inspired confidence. But to be fair to the president and his advisers, they could hardly have foreseen how badly the economy would falter and the cost of writing the stimulus checks to counteract it.
Likely Republican presidential nominee John McCain used the forecast to draw attention to his "unmatched record in fighting wasteful earmarks and unnecessary spending." Earmarks are a symptom of the legislative mind-set that produces deficits, not the direct cause of them, and McCain’s fellow lawmakers seemed to feel that all that spending was necessary.
A Barack Obama spokesman said that the Democratic candidate, while not promising to balance the budget, would cut wasteful spending, close corporate tax loopholes, roll back the tax cuts for the wealthy, all while providing a middle class tax cut and affordable health care.
If only it were that simple.